My contributions to “Roots of the Jam Weekend”

November 26th, 2014

My pal Ari Fink asked me (and my Tales from the Golden Road cohost, Gary Lambert) to pick some seminal tracks to play on the Jam_On Channel‘s “Roots of the Jam Weekend,” airing now through Sunday (11/30/14).

Here are the four pieces I contributed:

Dark StarLive Dead, recorded 2/27/69
The Grateful Dead didn’t invent jamming, but they did create a unique form of collective improvisation that set them apart from their contemporaries in the San Francisco music scene and inspired whole generations of musicians who grew up listening to them.

To my way of thinking, the most significant and satisfying music the Dead made was a little ditty called “Dark Star.” The original studio single was barely two minutes long, but it contained the genetic code for nearly infinite musical expansion, and great variations of feel from sweet and lilting to gnarly and noisy. I have often said I’ve never met a “Dark Star” I didn’t like, and I have listened to literally hundreds of recordings. Saw quite a few of ‘em live, too!

When all is said and done, the “Dark Star” on the 1969 album Live Dead is truly a peak performance. This is great music for driving across the desert, by the way. Take this with you on your next trip to southern Utah and I’m sure you’ll agree!

Playing in the BandEurope ’72: The Complete Recordings (5/10/72)
One of my favorite Grateful Dead songs/jams is “Playing in the Band,” which began with a ten-beat melody given to Mickey Hart by the Indian music master Alla Rakha. Mickey and lyricist Robert Hunter turned it into a song for Mickey’s 1972 solo album Rolling Thunder (titled “The Main Ten (Playing n the Band)”, with the help of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir. Bobby started playing it with the Grateful Dead in 1971, and beginning with the Europe ’72 tour the band opened up a section in the middle of the song for exploration and expansion. There’s a very cool studio performance on Bobby’s 1972 solo album Ace, but of course the live performances are where the real magic can be found.

The Dead played “Playing in the Band” at every one of the 22 shows on the Europe ’72 tour (and twice on 4/21/72, during the Beat Club TV taping), and from that time on it was one of the band’s most important vehicles to JAM ON. This one, recorded on May 10, 1972 in Amsterdam, goes to some very interesting places before the musicians reconvene and bring it home for a big finish.

Watkins Glen Soundcheck JamSo Many Roads (1965-1995), recorded 7/27/73
The Grateful Dead are pretty much the founding fathers of the “jam band” genre, of course. The band was famous for never playing anything the same way twice, and for combining a brilliant collection of original songs and borrowed tunes with wild and often beautiful group improvisations. Nobody else did things quite the way the Grateful Dead did ‘em.

The Dead played a gigantic show in July of 1973 at the Watkins Glen Raceway in upstate New York on a bill with the Band and the Allman Brothers. The crowds were so huge waiting to get in that the promoters opened the place up a day early, and the sound check turned out to be a performance of sorts. So some several thousand fans were lucky to be on the premises when the Dead played this amazing bit of pure improvisation. The tape cuts in as the jam is beginning, but it seems pretty clear that this music did not emerge from a song – it’s just pure free-form. My co-producers and I all agreed that this jam belonged in the boxed set So Many Roads (1965-1995), and we gave it a very straightforward title: “Watkins Glen Soundcheck Jam.” It’s a thing of beauty, utterly unique in Grateful Dead history.

Beautiful JamSo Many Roads (1965-1995), recorded 2/18/71
The Grateful Dead were famous for their great original songs, unique interpretations of other people’s songs, and of course for making up brand-new music onstage in real time – the very definition of the word “jam.” I would like to share with you one of the sweetest piece of music I have ever heard, by anyone in any genre. It was performed at the Capitol Theater on February 18, 1971, coming out of the very first public performance of “Wharf Rat,” deep in the second set. I just fell in love with this the first time I ever heard it.

I had a chance to play this for Phil Lesh when he appeared on my radio show in Berkeley a while back, and it was really a treat to watch his face when he heard it for the first time since the band played it. This is a showcase for the sweetness of Jerry Garcia’s lead guitar and the sensitivity of the group mind that created it on the fly.

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1366

November 23rd, 2014

Week of November 24, 2014

Part 1 25:23
Grateful Dead 2/24/74 Winterland, San Francisco

Part 2 30:11
Grateful Dead 10/25/69 Winterland, San Francisco
David Nelson Band, Once in a Blue Moon

The first quarterly release of the 2015 Dave’s Picks subscription series will be the complete soundboard recording of 2/24/74 at Winterland. I played this selection from my old vault DAT, just to give you a taste of the music; obviously the mastered version will be a great improvement in audio quality! You can sign up for your 2015 subscription now. Subscribers also get a bonus disc of previously-unreleased material.

The 10/25/69 “Lovelight” with Stephen Stills is included here by request of a listener. Stills and his pals David Crosby and Graham Nash were good friends with the Grateful Dead. Stills played on Mickey Hart’s 1972 album Rolling Thunder; in addition to this guest shot at Winterland, Stills sat in with the GD in December 1969 (Los Angeles) and April 1983 (East Rutherford NJ).

“Film at Eleven is from a brand-new studio CD by the David Nelson Band, and I am loving it! You’ll hear more from this wonderful CD in the weeks to come. If that name is unfamiliar to you, David Nelson is one of Jerry Garcia’s oldest musical running buddies. They played folk and bluegrass together, took acid for the first time together, and played together in the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. The Nelson Band doesn’t tour very often, sorry to say, but they jam like mofos. Check ‘em out.

Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from:

The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. Phil Lesh & Friends will perform the last two shows of their 10-night fall run on November 28 and 29, with Anders Osborne, Marco Benevento, Stu Allen, Joe Russo. The venue’s nightclub, Garcia’s, hosts live music and entertainment weekly. Events, information, and ticketing at

Dark Star Orchestra’s Jamaican Jam in the Sand Getaway. February 27 to March 3 at the Grand Lido Resort & Spa in Negril, Jamaica. Tree full, two-set DSO shows and an acoustic set, two David Nelson Band shows, Grateful Grass featuring Keller Williams, Vince Herman, Sam Grisman & Allie Kral, plus two more Keller Williams shows. Details at

New station: Wilmington OH

November 21st, 2014

The Grateful Dead Hour will air Saturdays at 11pm Eastern time on WALH 106.7 FM in Wilmington, Ohio starting November 29. WALH streams live at

The current station list is posted at

Peter Albin interview by Joanna Manqueros

November 21st, 2014

Joanna Manqueros hosted Dead to the World on July 30, 2014, and interviewed Peter Albin (Big Brother and the Holding Company). Listener Damien Palermo was kind enough to transcbie the talk. Enjoy!

Joanna Manqueros (host): Jerry Garcia was born in 1942. What was he doing in 1962? You brought some stuff in that’s really cool with The Wildwood Boys, so talk a little bit about his early days.

Peter Albin: Well I’ll tell ya how we met Jerry. My brother and a friend of his along with myself had a little club called The Boar’s Head in San Carlos. It was above a bookstore called The Carlos Bookstall and uh we just had it during the summer of 1961 and ‘62. First it was in this bookstall and later it moved to the Jewish Community Center in San Carlos, but we looked around for people who would be willing to play for free and who needed a place to play. We heard about this guy who was really a good guitar player down in Palo Alto or Menlo Park, I guess, playing at a place, it was a bookstore, Kepler’s Bookstore, a very famous bookstore that was used by a lot of Stanford students.

So we went down there and we asked, do you have a stage, do you have a, what do you have here? It’s a bookstore. I said, well isn’t there a guy playing music some place? He says, yeah go in the back. So we went way in the back and there’s this little area that had free coffee and a couple of tables and chairs and there’s Jerry Garcia playing finger style guitar.

So we asked him, would you like to come up to San Carlos and play? We can’t pay you anything, but you certainly are good enough and a lot of people would probably like to listen to you. He said, “Uh sure and maybe I’ll bring some of my friends, too.” We said, fine bring whoever you want. The more the merrier.

The Boar’s Head had a capacity of about 25 people. It was very small, almost as small as the area at Kepler’s, but we had a lot of people who came to play and some of Jerry Garcia’s friends came along with some of the electric people who came, mostly folk guys. There was a guy named David McQueen who sang blues and this young kid Ron McKernan also came with Jerry and Jerry would back both of these guys singing blues, but he also had some other friends. Marshall Leicester who played banjo and then he became friends with David Nelson who was a friend of mine. Actually, I went to high school with David and so they started working together, later on.

My brother and I had a group called The Liberty Hill Aristocrats, we first started in about ’61 or ‘62 with a gal named Ellen Cavanaugh and we’ll hear that a little bit later on, but we do want to play some of the early collaborations of Jerry Garcia with his friend, Bob Hunter.

JM: Those are the early days and you, Peter Albin of Big Brother and the Holding Company, you knew him when he was very young and just starting out, which is a tremendous thing. You know, he’s ranked 13th in Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time. You’re talking about American history there.

PA: Yeah, he’s an amazing guitar player and after we heard him play guitar, he started learning how to play banjo around that time. He was incredible. A very influential guy was Roger Sprung and of course, Scruggs, and all the bluegrass players. Jerry also learned how to play mandolin and all sorts of instruments. He was a very talented guy, obviously, and very unique. He was very intense, in a good way, but very forceful.

One time I walked in and we were at The Top of the Tangent and he said, “I just learned how to play Nola on the banjo”, which is a very difficult song to play, even on piano or whatever and he played it very well and very fast. He said, “dig this”, you know kinda like shove it in your face kinda thing, but it was like “I can do this now, I’m learning how to do this.”

So, we were kind of let into the process that Jerry was into at that time, learning all these different songs and different styles. It was incredible.

Music: “Hoochie Koochie Man” with Pigpen on vocals and Peter Albin on guitar, Top of the Tangent 1963

JM: We listened to an unusual track and Jerry was not singing on that track. Peter Albin, who was that?

PA: That was Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and he was about 15 years old. I was backing him on guitar.

JM: What was Pigpen like as a person?

PA: He was a very quiet guy. He really knew the blues. His father had been a DJ in Oakland and played a lot of blues on his show and he had a fantastic record collection. Pigpen was versed in not only playing harmonica, which he really did quite well, but also played guitar and piano.

Now, I gotta tell you about KPFA and how important it was to both myself and Ron because we came up here a couple of times for Gert Chiarito’s Midnight Special show, which was fantastic. It was a round-robin show, one microphone and about 20 people and chairs around, circling the microphone and each person got a chance to sing a song and then passed to the next person. So Ron and I came up along with a bunch of other people. The Chambers Brothers were there, Janet Smith was there and next to me was Janis Joplin. I had never met her before. She was sitting there with her white man’s shirt on and no bra and it was like, for a young kid I was goin, “woo”. What is she gonna do and she started singing. It was incredibly loud number one and just incredible tone in her voice and she really knew the blues quite well. She and Ron kind of hit it off a little bit there and later on down the line they were kind of a thing for a while.

JM: It was the early days, wasn’t it, that you connected with Jerry. I’ve asked you to bring out some music that was kind of what was in Jerry’s ear. I’m always interested in sort of what brings someone to the music that they create and what inspired Jerry. One of the things you pulled out was Doc Watson, who is considered one of the best flat pickers in the United States and I wonder if you want to talk about that and other artists who were people who inspired Jerry Garcia.

PA: Jerry was a great flat picker, but he also was a good finger picker too. So there was besides Doc Watson and some of those great flat pickers in those days, there were the finger pickers like Merle Travis and even Chet Atkins for that matter, but going way back he was very influenced by some of the , I wanna say, the country artists of the 20’s including Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, Charlie Poole, of course early bluegrass guys including Bill Monroe and of course, Earl Scruggs. But, he listened to everything, ya know.

JM: His dad was a musician and the family had emigrated from Spain in 1919 and his dad was from Spain, which I don’t know why, but it’s like never mentioned.

PA: Well I never met the family. I met his brother, Tiff, but that was about it. I never met his mother or father. You know, he never spoke Spanish and he didn’t really give off any kind of like Latino thing and he didn’t play that type of music. Very seldom did I ever hear him play any Spanish type of music, or Latin. It was always early American music and it was a delight to hear him replicate a lot of this stuff and then, of course, it was a delight to hear him get into a more creative line and make his own music and write his own songs. He was a pretty wonderful guy. You know and again, I think he had come up to Berkeley, to KPFA, to the Gert Chiarito Midnight Special show and participated in that and he really appreciated KPFA as well as all of his friends and the musicians who were around at the time. If it wasn’t for KPFA, I probably wouldn’t have met Janis Joplin, to tell ya the truth.

JM: What was Janis Joplin like? I’ve heard that when she got up onstage at Woodstock that people were just blown away to see a white person singing the blues.

PA: Well, she had a very strong voice, number one, and a very strong personality that backed up that voice so it was all from her heart and from her soul and she had kinda grown up, well she did grow up in the South.

JM: In Texas, in an abusive school environment, plenty of bullying is what I heard.

PA: Yes, unfortunately and she wanted to be a beatnik, you know, and come out west, which she eventually did, and she wanted to sing the blues., which she did all the time and she also sang a lot of folk music, too. When I saw her here at KPFA, at the Midnight Special, I think she did one blues song and one old folk song. So she was definitely into Americana and the roots music of the time and she was a wonderful person most of the time. You know, she was a human being, she had her moods, she had her ups and downs. She was a very well read person and you could have an intellectual conversation with her, you could have a conversation about anything, you know, give her a little bit of tequila or something like that and it might spark her onto different sorts of directions of conversation, but it was always fun and she was a very funny person. She had a very high laugh that was infectious, but most of the time it was a fun relationship that we had.

Music: “The Yodeling Song by Jimmie Rodgers

JM: Peter Albin has been choosing some beautiful stuff, and one of the things you’ve been doing has been grounding us in what Jerry Garcia was listening to when he was young. I know his father passed away in a fly fishing accident and his grandmother played bluegrass and listened to The Grande Old Opry, and it seemed like he was fascinated by bluegrass and country music. Why did you choose that cut?

PA: Well, that was Jimmie Rodgers and of course he’s one of the founding, I guess one of the early inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He kind of borrowed his style from Emmett Miller which goes way back to the vaudeville days, but he kinda brought it out into country music and to that scene and Garcia listened to a lot of that early stuff, including cowboy songs, but it’s all kind of Americana. All these kinds of music weave in and out and of course, it all seems to come together with rock and roll, and Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. They also listened to a lot of these things and incorporated it into their music as did Jerry and some of the band members of the Grateful Dead. Ron McKernan was extremely interested in the blues and very instrumental in bringing R&B into the GD’s repertoire. We probably should dig out some of those Motown things and some of those Memphis cuts.

State of the musician’s life

November 20th, 2014

Two very interesting articles I’ve read this week offer glimpses of the state of the music business.

A while back, Peter Case posted on Facebook that he was starting a label. I wrote to him: “Pretty soon it’s going to be ‘one man, one label.’” And he replied: “Yeah, it’s like the fall of the Soviet Union: the playing field has been completely leveled.”

It also means that the ceiling has come down so low that a modestly-successful (but largely happy and self-sufficient) player like me can be see as doing reasonably well. And that the possibilities for the likes of me are fairly limited. I am too old to be a pop star (and not even slightly interested in making the kind of music that would put me into that world) anyway!

Steve Albini: “The old system was built by the industry to serve the players inside the industry. The new system where music is shared informally and the bands have a direct relationship to the fans was built by the bands and the fans in the manner of the old underground. It skips all the intermediary steps.”

And: “Music has entered the environment as an atmospheric element, like the wind, and in that capacity should not be subject to control and compensation. Well, not unless the rights holders are willing to let me turn the tables on it. If you think my listening is worth something, OK then, so do I. Play a Phil Collins song while I’m grocery shopping? Pay me $20. Def Leppard? Make it $100. Miley Cyrus? They don’t print money big enough.”

Read Albini’s keynote from the Face the Music conference (whatever that is).

And this article from this week’s East Bay Express exposes the moves Pandora has made to boost its profits by lowering payments to performers and publishers.

The Tyranny of Free, by Sam Lefebvre

I get checks from SoundExchange, piling up those infinitesimal payments for each play on Pandora, Spotify, various airline music streams, etc. “Echolalia,” an instrumental from my CD The Ones that Look the Weirdest Taste the Best, seems to be fairly popular.

I make money playing gigs, and I sell a modest amount of “product” at those gigs. The small amounts I make from royalties isn’t really enough to make a difference in my life, but a few hundred bucks a year from BMI and SoundExchange, plus sales (hard copy and e-book) of Conversations with the Dead, help me to feel like a viable entity in the marketplace.

I don’t have the resources to do any serious promotion, and quite frankly it doesn’t seem like a wise investment anyway. I said this to some friends who just put out a CD: if you’re not in stores and you’re not touring nationally, then it doesn’t make much sense to spend money trying to get radio airplay. I invested in radio promotion for Weirdest when it came out in 2008, but I don’t think I’ll do that for the next record.

I am in complete control of my musical life and work: I own the rights to all of my songs and recordings. I book almost every one of my own gigs myself. I pay an accountant to manage my business (which includes my radio work), and I have an agent representing me for book stuff. But I don’t make enough money to attract a booking agent or manager – and (Catch-22!) it’s hard for me to step up to the next level as a touring performer because I don’t have access to the major talent buyers, don’t have enough of a draw to get into big clubs, etc.

But! I get to play the music I want to play. I do some festivals, play lots of house concerts (which I LOVE); I tour with the Rumpke Mountain Boys as often as we can manage it; and for almost a year now I have been making entirely improvised music with a band we call The Known Unknown. It’s really hard to market, but it’s really fun to play and the guys I’m doing it with (Phil Savell, guitar; Zach Partain, bass; Neil Hampton, percussion) are as into it as I am. I’ve had a couple of unpleasant experiences in recent years, putting together bands in which I was pretty much the only one moving things forward; it’s really nice to be with people who are willing to invest their energies into all phases of the project!

I grew up in a musical world that just doesn’t exist any more. Not much point in mourning that, ’cause there’s work to do and fun to be had in the world I’m in.

Dead to the World 11/19/14

November 19th, 2014

(Started an hour late following the Pacifica National Archive fund-raiser)

Weather Report Suite->
Row Jimmy
– Grateful Dead 2/24/74 Winterland, San Francisco
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed – Allman Brothers Band, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
Six Feet of Snow – Leftover Salmon, High Country
Some Iko – Butler-Bernstein and the Hot 9, Viper’s Drag

2/24/74 is the first release of the 2015 Dave’s Picks subscription series.

David Nelson on schisms of the folk era and the advent of Bob Dylan

November 17th, 2014

(The David Nelson Band has an amazing new studio CD, Once In a Blue Moon. Check it out!)

David Nelson, July 2007:

In the late ’50-early ’60s, there were factions, camps. “I like folk music” usually meant Kingston Trio, the Brothers Four, Limeliters. That was a surfacey kind of folk music.

There were those of us who dug a little deeper into the funky stuff, which is what it comes from. The New Lost City Ramblers was a good example. Mike Seeger, Tom Paley, and John Cohen would take old 78s from the ’30s and then capture that – but not exactly. They were doing their thing; they were into the music.

People were taking sides. “Oh, you’re one of those ethnic people,” and they would point the finger at us. At a folk festival, we’d gather around and over here there’d be people who could play banjo and fiddle – “that low stuff.”

We’d say, “Yeah, we’re into ethnic music.” That meant bluegrass and old time string band music. “Eww…”

By the time the Monterey Folk Festival came around and Dylan was there –

By the way, we won “Best amateur band” – me, Hunter, Garcia, Ken Frankel, and Norm van Maastricht. I believe we were the Hart Valley Drifters. We auditioned there, and Mike Seeger gave us a big applaud and we won the band contest.

There was Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, the Kentucky Colonels – all these bands. It was incredible! But the reviews in the [San Francisco] Chronicle – “Oh, the Monterey Folk Festival! Big fiasco – it was way too ethnic-heavy! All this traditional stuff – who wants that?”

We were going, “Oh, man. Won’t they ever get it?”

That’s the way it was in those days: you took sides. It was either-or; you’re jumpin’ on this or not. It was like enemies. If somebody was into the Kingston Trio, you had to be enemies because you played bluegrass. That’s the way things were in the ’50s.

I liked that [mainstream folk] stuff, because it introduced guitars to everybody.

And then there’s the political songwriters – the Almanac Singers, Woody Guthrie – that’s a whole legitimate genre, too. But somehow we had to be enemies. We were fighting each other, y’know. I don’t know what for. That’s what I recall.

There’s this kid Bob Dylan, who’s writing songs. We were thinking, “Why would you want to write a song? There’s so much good stuff. How about ‘The Cuckoo Bird‘ by Clarence Ashley? How come you don’t play that? No, no, no, you have to write a song.” And yet, I go back to those songs now – “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” oh man! To this day, that song is just utterly riveting! At the same time as being related to traditional music. You couldn’t declare it, because of all that infighting, but secretly we all knew. “You got the album? So did I.”

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1365

November 16th, 2014

Week of November 17, 2014

Part 1 33:37
Grateful Dead 9/20/82 Madison Square Garden, New York City

Part 2 21:54
Grateful Dead 9/20/82 Madison Square Garden, New York City
Grateful Dead, Europe 72: The Complete Recordings (5/10/72)

The 5/10/72 “Playing in the Band” is included here because I heard a musicological presentation on the song by Brian Felix (of UNC-Asheville) at the conference “So Many Roads: The World in the Grateful Dead” in San Jose on November 6, 2014. The Europe ’72 tour was the time when “Playing in the Band” was growing into one of the Dead’s most important improvisational frameworks. You can order the complete show from DeadNet.

Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from:

The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, a venue that hosted popular 1970s rock bands like Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. Phil Lesh & Friends will perform at The Cap for their fourth weekend in a row on November 21 and 22, with John Kadlecik, Joe Russo, Jason Crosby, and Keller Williams. New local artists are featured frequently at the venue’s nightclub Garcia’s. Events, information, and ticketing at

Dark Star Orchestra’s Jamaican Jam in the Sand Getaway, February 27 to March 3 at the Grand Lido Resort & Spa in Negril, Jamaica. Three full, two-set DSO shows and an acoustic set, two David Nelson Band shows, Grateful Grass featuring Keller Williams, Vince Herman, Sam Grisman & Allie Kral, plus two more Keller Williams shows. Details at

Photos of Alembic, then and now

November 14th, 2014

This week I visited Alembic Inc. for the first time in more than 30 years. This is a link to a set of photos from this visit, plus a few shots I took in September 1978 when I was there to write a story for BAM Magazine.

Alembic – photos by David Gans (1978 and 2014)


November 12, 2014 plus a few images from September 1978

New time in Roanoke

November 12th, 2014

The Grateful Dead Hour moves to 9pm Sundays on The Valley’s Music place, 101.5 in Roanoke VA.

Complete station list is here.